Dangerous ‘YouTube Challenges’ and Kids: How Parents Can Avoid Tragedy

Would you know if your kids were trying them? Find out what YouTube challenges are, why kids get hooked and how to be on the lookout.

Everyone loves a good challenge, but what about when kids take it too far? If you’ve overheard your kids talking about the “ghost pepper challenge” or “3 a.m. challenge,” you’re not alone. They’re just a couple of the YouTube challenges sweeping the web and influencing young kids to get involved.

It’s proving to be a dangerous trend, though. While some of the challenges are innocent (like the “try not to laugh challenge”), others are much more serious and can even be deadly.

The recent Dragon’s Breath challenge has led to nitrogen-related skin damage. The now-notorious Tide Pod challenge has poison control centers seeing an increase in intentional exposures to the highly toxic laundry detergent capsules. And the “blue whale challenge” has reportedly led to teen suicides.

All of these join previously well-publicized “games” like the duct tape challenge and cinnamon challenge, all of which have at times led to injury among kids.

Licensed professional counselor Jessica Lentz, CRC, says she’s aware of the dangerous trend of YouTube challenges and believes it’s an important issue for parents to address with their kids.

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“The challenges offer a dangerous solution for the age-old problem: peer acceptance as the antidote to low self-esteem,” Lentz, a counselor at Macomb Therapy Group in Clinton Township, says.

Why kids want to take part

Unfortunately, adolescents and teens are especially prone to wanting to get involved in this sort of trend since they’re “typically lacking in self-concept, which makes them vulnerable to low self-esteem,” she says.

Between ages 5 to 12, a child’s peers become a major source of his or her self-esteem and, subsequently, they feel the need to “win approval by demonstrating specific competencies valued by society,” Lentz says.

Avoiding problems

So what can parents do to make their kids less vulnerable to things like dangerous YouTube challenges? Open communication is key.

“Offer an opportunity to collaboratively search for an appropriate challenge and use the opportunity to model good decision-making,” she says. “It’s imperative to keep those lines of communication open to maintain trust.”

To start, parents may want to ask their kids what they already know about the issue of YouTube challenges.

“You want to share realistic age-appropriate risks and set the tone that you are an honest and reliable source of information. Otherwise, their peers will offer plenty of (mis)guidance,” Lentz says.

Don’t be in denial

Don’t assume your child hasn’t heard of the extreme YouTube challenges or that they wouldn’t ever consider taking part. If you’re closed-minded to the possibility, you could miss subtle warning signs and lose your opportunity to intervene early.

“If you’re waiting for overt signs, you may inadvertently be an enabler,” Lentz says. “Kids often lack insight on the matter, so if you are waiting for a bright red flag to wave, you’ve lost the luxury for time, space and guidance and your only option will to become a dictator your parents once were. Kids thrive in an environment of mutual respect where their wants and needs matter and parental wisdom is accepted.”

Monitoring kids’ online habits

Monitoring your child’s YouTube account, including viewing history, is critical. You can also follow these five steps to make YouTube safe for kids.

You might also consider the concept of a family entertainment device.

“Take the time to watch the videos in a public viewing area, monitor the contents and develop their judgment for spotting good vs. bad,” Lentz suggests. “When you don’t explain risk, it becomes a taboo topic and you give up the opportunity to explore and guide.”

Also remember that the word discipline means “to teach,” she says. “It’s our duty as parents to teach our children how to be productive and responsible online citizens.”

This post was originally published in 2018 and is updated regularly. 

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